Favorite Albums: Synchronicity

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I’ve been hearing a few Police songs on Sirius 1st Wave lately, and it got me thinking: I haven’t listened to their last album Synchronicity in a LONG time. It occurred to me that this was one of the early non-Beatles albums that I connected with from start to finish in the early 80s. [I’d say Rush’s Moving Pictures and Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless are two others from this era…I’d listened to full albums all the time, but very few of them contained a full album’s worth of tracks I completely loved.  That would change within a year or so.]

I remember Synchronicity coming out as there was an amazingly detailed push by the label, A&M, on MTV, including multiple versions of the album cover, as well as a four-minute long teaser that was played on the music channel:

Having become a somewhat passive fan of the band on the previous album (1981’s Ghost in the Machine and the many hits that got airplay on rock radio, I loved what I was hearing. And when it was released in June of 1983, one of my sisters bought it and I damn near wore it out playing it. I’d dubbed a copy of it for my own listening until I finally found a used vinyl copy a year or so later.

Of course everyone knows the lead-off single, “Every Breath You Take”, which still gets an amazing amount of airplay over thirty years later. I was more a fan of its b-side, “Murder By Numbers”, which was treated as a bonus track on the cassette and CD. I was also a fan of the second single, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. It’s not often you hear a song that uses the phrase “trapped between the Scylla and Charibdys”. Nerdy stuff indeed.

But what I found myself really enjoying was the strange mix of album cuts, from the jazzy “Miss Gradenko”…

to the new wave weirdness of “Mother”…

…to the jittery opener “Synchronicity I”.

I was only twelve when it came out, but budding writer in me really liked the idea that the album was all about different kinds of philosophies, both religious and profane, and how often they were linked in one way or another. Sting’s uber-intellectual lyrics were tempered by some brilliant melodies that seemed to transcend anything they’d recorded before.

Of course, it was also their last album together before they broke up (acrimoniously due to clashing egos, of course), so they certainly went out with a bang. Each member went on to vastly different solo careers and though they’ve reconvened a few times for one reason or another, they’ve never released anything new since.

Out of all the Police albums I listen to, Synchronicity gets the most plays by far.  It’s the tightest, the wildest, and the most interesting in my opinion.  The others tend to have weak spots that lose my attention, but this one I’ll still listen to from start to finish.

 

WIS: Unexpected inspiration

The other day while reading Martin Aston’s book about the 4AD label, I came across a single sentence:

By 1985, American college radio had gathered momentum alongside the spurt in independent record labels, with the likes of [Clan of Xymox’s] “A Day” striking radio programmers as adventurous and commercial, and a modern, gleaming alternative to the guitar-centric homegrown scene spearheaded by bands such as REM, Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü.

To be honest, I hadn’t been thinking of my Walk in Silence project lately, partly because I’d put it aside some time ago.  I didn’t trunk it, I just put it aside so I could focus on the Trilogy Edit and newer fiction.  I’d also gone through my projected timeline last summer on a personal level, if only to purge it from my writing brain for a while.

That personal version really wasn’t the original idea that I’d had.  I was thinking more along the lines of a chronological book about college rock.  The releases bracketing the story would be The Smiths’ third single, “What Difference Does It Make” (January 1984) and Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine (October 1989).

I could never quite figure out a way to solidify my idea that that was the golden era of college rock, before it became much more mainstream in 1991 with Nirvana and everyone else.  Until that one sentence.  It made sense to me, though…1984-85 was about the time that a lot of independent distributors and labels in the US, such as Relativity and Caroline, started licensing British bands that had only been available on expensive imports.  [Only Sire had any sizeable share in that field as a major label, having signed the Smiths, Depeche Mode, and others.]

So it occurs to me that perhaps it’s time for me to resurrect the Walk in Silence project as it was originally intended, focusing on the sounds of college rock in the mid to late 80s.  Maybe without so much of the personal added to it this time out.

Of course, I already have a few writing projects on tap as it is, so I’ll have to figure out how the hell to fit this in.  Heh.

Retro: 1981

A while back I was visiting a music blog I enjoy but haven’t checked out in some time called Musicophilia.  Sometime in April they had an entry regarding an incredibly huge mix they’d built sometime last decade (and recently updated to twice its original size!), the entire collection containing post-punk songs from 1981.

That’s one hell of a fantastic mix, even by my standards.  I’ve been listening to it off and on, and the first thing that hits me is how similar a lot of this stuff is to the indie music out there now.  It’s pure college rock in a sense — the non-commercial stuff you’d hear on your favorite college radio station back in the day, even further afield than the Big Names we all know and remember now.  You may think of Depeche Mode and the Cure and The Replacements and so on, and those bands definitely have their own spot in this mix, but you’ll also see tracks from Crispy Ambulance, The Swimming Pool Qs, Pere Ubu, Flux of Pink Indians, and so on.  Bands you know of and most likely don’t have in your collection, but you remember that station playing those tracks late at night while doing your homework.

To be honest, it kind of makes me think that I’m not even close to doing justice to my own retrospective mixes or delving deep enough into the sounds of the past.  Who knows, maybe I’ll do one of my own versions of this megamix one of these days.

[I’m not sure if the mix is still available, but go ahead and follow Musicophilia anyway, they do post some great streaming mixes as well that’ll really open your ears to some deep cuts and forgotten gems.  [And I do mean forgotten — not the ‘oh yeah, that Cure single I used to hear all the time in 1992 and they’re now playing again for a brief time’.  I’m talking tunes I haven’t heard since maybe 1987 or so.]

Favorite Bands: Cocteau Twins

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If I had to pick any one band that influenced my bass and guitar styles the most, inspired numerous plot ideas and settings for my early writings, and always calmed my teenage soul late at night, it would definitely be Cocteau Twins.

I absolutely adored the layered, chiming and heavily echoed guitars of Robin Guthrie, the dual-tone melodies of bassist Simon Raymonde (and even the dissonant meanderings of original bassist Will Heggie, who went on to be part of the band Lowlife), and the otherworldly vocalizations of Elizabeth Fraser.

They were My Bloody Valentine at a much lower volume.  They were Felt with a hell of a lot more ambience.  They were goth without the pretension and imagery.  And they were one of the biggest anchors of the classic 80s sound of the 4AD record label.  When all the music critics described their sound as pastoral, autumnal or dreamlike, they really weren’t trying to be over the top.  They really did sound like the Scottish Highlands on a cool and foggy morning, or a late October in foliage-laden New England.

If you haven’t given them a close listen, especially their dreamier 80s output, I highly suggest it.  It’s quite lovely.

Fly-by: The Dickies

Sorry for another fly-by folks…between Day Jobbery and feeling absolutely knackered the last few days, I don’t have much energy to post anything too intensive.

That said, I’ve strangely been on a Dickies kick lately.  Not sure why.  I think it’s that their quite excellent cover of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” popped into my head the other day.  They’re part of that early 80s Silly American Punk scene that gave us bands like Blotto and The Meatmen.

Here’s a few choice cuts I think you’ll like… 🙂





Two hours into the future…30 years later

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The original late-80s opening I remember so well

Over the last few weeks, there’s been an uptick of newly uploaded videos on the 120 Memories YouTube channel that feature almost-full episodes of the venerated show.  There’s a few other channels out there showing partial episodes (usually the host segments but no music videos) like MrBriefcaseTV2 and other users.  There’s also the great reference website The 120 Minutes Archive, which provides extensive playlists of nearly every episode*, and links to the videos if they’re available.

* – Back when this site was first being built sometime in 2004 or so, I still had a lot of my old VHS tapes with many of the episodes, so I was able to provide them with a lot of playlist information.  A lot of the 1987-1989 episodes have my name listed on the site.

It’s fun watching some of these now, nearly thirty years later…

For instance, I remember watching the above episode as Dave Kendall (at that point still only the producer and doing the countdowns and new releases) featuring a segment on the then-new Sisters of Mercy album, Floodland.  Even though he treated it in his usual over-the-top way, dripping with snark and pomposity and just a hint of humor, that segment actually convinced me to go out and buy the album.

I’d say Kevin Seal was my favorite host, considering he played it like the student doing a show on college radio: the barest of preparation, rehearsal or professionalism, but he was having a hell of a fun time doing it.  It also helped that he was also the class weirdo out of all the veejays there at the time.  Dave Kendall was the station manager, doing what he could with what little he had on hand, more focused on providing awesome music than decent production.

Those early years were definitely lo-fi.  They’d become more slick during the early 90s when Nirvana & Co came in, followed by the Ultimate Music Nerd in the shape of Matt Pinfield in the mid to late 90s.  But those early years, that era from 1986 to about 1990 when it was still all about whatever was playing on college radio at the time, that was where it worked best.  It was the visual equivalent of turning on your favorite college station for two hours after everyone else had gone to bed.

1987

Thinking about some of the great musicians we lost this year, I realized that Bowie, Prince, and George Michael all had career-changing releases in 1987.  It was probably the last year I paid any significant attention to commercial rock and the countdown charts before I sold my soul to college radio, but I still kept my ears (and eyes) open for the big names at the time.

David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (released 27 April 1987) was a big seller but had a mixed reaction from its critics.  Having spent most of the 80s recording catchy but less-than-adventurous chart rock, after this album he’d work with Reeves Gabrels and Hunt and Tony Sales to form Tin Machine — an often maligned side project, but in my opinion a much needed boost to his creativity.  He’d follow up in the 90s with much stronger albums and critical success.  It took me a while to warm up to this album, as I too felt Bowie had fallen into a bit of a rut and was going through the motions, but in retrospect it’s still a solid album.

Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (released 30 March 1987) is one of my top favorite albums of his, and its creation story is even more fascinating.  Known for creating multiple side projects that may or may not come to fruition, Prince took the best parts of his Camille project (recording under a different name, an altered voice, and an even more androgynous image), the last dregs of two aborted projects with the Revolution before he ended that group (Dream Factory and Crystal Ball), and filled it out with his own solo tracks to create a fantastic double album full of funk, pop, psychedelia, rock, and even a few of his patented weird psych-outs.   I always felt this album was the point where he’d left his over-the-top 80s pop persona behind and became more serious about his music.  He’d hit a few more roadblocks and make a few more wrong turns, but by the early 90s he’d hit his stride and become an even bigger star.  I still listen to this album, it’s that damn good.

I remember hearing American Top 40 premiering George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” single in the summer of 1987 and being blown away by it — the lite-pop production of Wham! was long gone (it had started slipping away with his “A Different Corner” single from spring 1986) and replaced by HUGE sounds and a hell of a lot of funk, and I loved the sound of it.  Radio and fans wondered what he was going to do next, having completely shed the goofy fun of his previous band.  His solo debut Faith (released 30 October 1987) was the result: mature, intensely creative and absolutely amazing.  I chose “Father Figure” here (even though the single dropped in January of 1988) because it’s my favorite song from the album…it’s a gorgeous and stunning ballad and I love the sparse-yet-cavernous sound of the production.